At Quantock Eco’s AGM in April there was a repeated request that the PowerPoint presentation given by Julian Anderson should be seen by a wider audience. This Special Issue attempts to answer that request. Julian emphasises that he is neither a meteorologist, nor an environmental scientist, nor scientist of any kind. This is his layman’s view of the causes of the existential crisis we face, and his ideas on how we might avoid it.
Is there really a climate crisis? My neighbour says there isn’t. “There was a mini–Ice Age in medieval times, correct? About the same time Europe suffered from a severe drought followed by famine, correct? The Climate is doing what it has always done”, he says vehemently.
The pundits say otherwise. By 2100 there will be a grim, manmade scenario. They remind us that the 2022 IPCC report was described as a “red code” warning for humanity, and that of 2023 a “survival guide”. They go on to say that without action now, by the end of the century billions will be without water. There will be migration, conflict, and war.
Unfortunately Climate Change is stealth itself. It creeps up on us day in, day out as we busy ourselves with everyday living. Not like Covid whose threat was palpable and immediate. To combat it we need a change in culture. The facts show that the lifestyle of recent generations compromised the wellbeing of future generations through greed, yes greed! This accusation will become clearer as my premise is developed.
The purpose here is to find out whether our earthly Paradise is lost or can be regained. I shall use my interpretation of the Hegelian dialectic to analyse the data. The aim being to determine what the real problem we face is, and what we have to do to resolve it.
In dialectic terms my Thesis will be Paradise. My Antithesis will be Anthropos (Greek for Humanity). The Synthesis will be the result of the conflict between Paradise and Anthropos. And the New Thesis will be my proposals for resolution of the conflict.
The word Paradise comes from the old Persian for walled garden. Our walled garden is without question our home, this Blue Planet. It is “walled” in the sense that it is impossible for us to live comfortably anywhere else within reach.
Our Planet is a living being. A place of beauty and tranquillity, teeming with life and colour, rich with a wealth of plants and animals. A place full of remarkable wildlife. A place where reciprocity rules, where the life of everything depends on the life of everything else. A place of peace and harmony.
Anthropos. Is he the Lucifer of the Common Era, that character so well known in Judeo, Christian, and Islamic tradition? We know that Anthropos is clever, very clever. So clever he created the Anthropocene. So clever, he has a god-like dominance over the Planet’s physical, biological, and chemical processes. He splits the atom. He makes blood in the lab. He makes human embryos in the lab. And now he offers us the wild, exciting world of artificial intelligence. In doing so o course, he may even have spawned his successor.
What is the origin of this culture of dominance? Judeo-Christian tradition has it that when God created man he sent him forth saying “Be fruitful and multiply, replenish the earth, subdue it, have dominion over the fish of sea, the fowl of the air, over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Some say the result of that instruction is Anthropos’ unfettered will to dominate.
I do not subscribe to that view. I suggest that whether by creation or evolution, what we have in Anthropos is the ultimate narcissist. The only creature on the Planet with Hubris. He has to dominate it all. He must have it all.
He has developed a degenerative consumer culture of take, make, discard; take, make, discard. He consumes greedily, even ferociously. He has created a throw-away society hyped by planned and perceived obsolescence. He pollutes not only land and sea, but also space. Seemingly without care.
To compound those features, there are now billions more of him. Billions burning more and more fossil fuels, emitting more and more greenhouse gases. As global temperature is driven by how much heat the Planet receives from the sun and how much is radiated back into space, the greenhouse effect of his lifestyle means global temperatures rise and rise, and rise.
Editorial Update 5th July: “The planet saw its hottest day ever this week. It’s not a record to celebrate and it won’t be a record for long. It could be broken several more times this year.” (US National Centers for Environmental Prediction)
Source: Climate Reanalyzer – Graphic: Krystina Shveda and Byron Manley, CNN
We have heard many a time that we should plant more trees and protect our wildlife, both absolute key essentials to regaining Paradise. It is rare that a holistic view of Anthropos’ full impact on the Planet is presented in one sitting. As Anthropos faces an existential crisis of his own making, I have chosen to hold no punches, and show the full impact of his lifestyle, with the hope that he can be shocked into putting it right.
Such a holistic view considers not only the negative, destabilizing, knock-on effect of his behaviour, known as the positive feedback loops, but also the threat of tipping points, where those positive loops spiral out of control with irreversible consequences.
Impact on Forests: Our forests are under siege. They play a critical role as a carbon sink and water resource. Their loss will be devastating. 10,000 years ago 71% of the Planet’s land surface was covered in forests, shrubs, and grassland. Today approximately 50% of that surface is used for agriculture. Half that loss occurred in the 10,000 years leading up to 1900; the other half in the last 200 years.
To feed his growing numbers, Anthropos’ has turned to industrial farming, using planned deforestation and illegal logging to uproot trees and shrubs, followed by chemically fertilised soil, and phalanxes of machinery harvesting vast quantities of monocrops.
This practice has led to several positive feedback loops. The first is soil degradation. Soil across the globe has been so degraded already that the FAO has warned that “a full 90% of the Earth’s precious topsoil is likely to be at risk by 2050”.
It is clear that continuing this style of farming means the loss of valuable carbon sinks, water resources, and wildlife habitats, as well as the increased risk of drought and fire. This will inevitably lead to the positive feedback loop of increased temperatures, and the threat of tipping points leading to irreversible consequences.
Anthropos’ impact on wildlife has been devastating. WWF has warned that since 1970 we have lost 69% of our wildlife due to habitat loss, increased heat, and disease. In addition we have lost 41% of the global insect population since 2012, vital for food security.
Impact on Oceans: Our oceans face multiple threats from warming, overfishing, and pollution.
Warmer oceans mean increased evaporation. Water vapour is the most abundant greenhouse gas. It absorbs radiated heat, and increases warming by two to three times.
The complex Jetstream is also influenced by ocean temperatures, and as it meanders, affects weather patterns and seasonal change. El Niño and La Niña are perhaps the most powerful examples of the effect of ocean temperature on the climate.
As the polar ice melts, the albedo effect is reduced. The word “albedo” is from the Latin alba, white. The white of the poles reflects the suns rays back out into space, and helps maintain stable temperatures. As the ice melts we are left with dark, heat absorbing seas.
As the poles are warming three times faster than the global average, we can expect increased ice melt with a disastrous effect on wild life. In the last 5 years Hudson Bay’s polar bear population has declined by 27%.
Reduced albedo represents a major positive feedback loop and a major tipping point threat. Not only will temperatures rise further, but so will sea levels, prompting what the UN Secretary General has called the prospect of the “mass exodus of entire populations on a biblical scale”.
The warming of the oceans also affects rainfall patterns and storms. Greater heat causes more evaporation, more moisture in the clouds and heavier rain, even “atmospheric rivers”, flooding, more violent storms, and often, societal damage.
The oceans are a wonderful carbon sink, but as less and less CO2 is absorbed by our forests, so more and more is absorbed by seas. The knock-on effect is that their PH is lowered. This causes acidification which eats away at the minerals used by oysters, clams, lobsters, shrimp, coral reefs, and other marine life to build their shells and skeletons. Result, they die.
Anthropos also farms the oceans industrially, again with serious impacts on wildlife. He captures fish faster than they can reproduce, and then shamefully, discards 40% of the huge catch, reeled in in nets hundreds of meters wide and deep.
We know only too well that he also treats the oceans as a rubbish dump, and that his lifestyle results in toxic run-off harmful to both humans and wildlife.
Impact on the Permafrost: The permafrost is perennially frozen ground, and covers some 22% of the planet’s surface. It is up to a kilometre thick. It is a lurking timebomb. It contains 1,500 billion tonnes of carbon, or twice as much as is currently in the atmosphere. Under existing circumstances, some 40% could disappear by 2100.
As it melts CO2 and methane (25 times more effective as a heat trapping gas than CO2) are released with the positive feedback loop that temperatures rise further, the melt is accelerated, sea levels rise, and ancient bacteria and viruses are liberated. Its disappearance is a major tipping point threat to Anthropos’ existence.
Impact on Water Security: Only 2.5% of the total volume of water on planet is freshwater. Of that less than 1% is usable by Anthropos. The FAO highlights the fact that 70% of that resource is used for the production of food.
The UN has warned that one in four people already live in water-stressed regions, and more recently that the Planet will have a 40% water deficit by 2030, if we do not change our behaviour. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) forecasts that by 2050, 52% of the Planet’s 9.7 billion people will live in water-stressed regions.
Impact on Health:
Rising temperatures, weather extremes and rising sea levels carry the threat of multiple physical and mental illnesses.
For example rising temperatures will trigger water/food scarcity and cardiovascular conditions; weather extremes will spark increased vector borne disease and respiratory difficulties; while rising sea levels will force migration accompanied by anxiety and despair.
When the Climate Crisis is considered in this holistic way, it is evident that Anthropos has pillaged the Planet, as if on a blind, drunken rampage. He sees the Planet as a resource to be consumed. He focusses continually on the short-term, extracting more and more, demanding more and more. Result – an existential threat to all life on the Planet.
The evidence proves that Anthropos is indeed the Lucifer of the Common Era. He was given responsibility and power, was corrupted by self-pride, rebelled against the Natural Order, and is now en route to drought, famine, migration, and conflict.
Is Paradise lost?
Definitely not! But regaining it will be a very tough task. The latest IPCC report is right – “it will take more than a quantum leap to put it right”; and that leap has to be taken now, without delay. “Our world needs climate action on all fronts, everything, everywhere, all at once,” said the UN Secretary General.
If we are to have any chance of saving Paradise, Net Zero 2040 has to be the objective.
Regaining Paradise depends on every one of us. There is a need for global governments to lay the legislative foundation, for businesses to carry it out, and for individuals to play as big a role as they possibly can. Governments and business must take the lead globally, as they did for Covid, when the Planet won. They can win again, if they act now, and avoid the host of tipping point threats that are stacking up.
The key strategic areas which I suggest, require immediate, concomitant action are energy generation, restoring nature, funding the change, population growth, and a new mindset. Action to carry them out requires cooperation of the sort we had when we all fought Covid, and won. If we can generate that Covid spirit again, the Climate Crisis will be beaten too.
Energy Generation: Our first priority should be to stop using fossil fuels, and transition soonest possible to solid oxide fuel cells and graphene batteries. Invest in them, subsidise their use, and push for economies of scale to lower prices and make them affordable to all.
They will use either Hydrogen or Ammonia as fuel. Hydrogen as a fuel is the holy grail. It is abundant, but tricky to move around, and needs special storage facilities. Ammonia is three parts hydrogen and one nitrogen. It is easy to transport and store; its infrastructure is already in place; it is cheaper to liquefy; is less flammable than hydrogen; and can be burned directly or “cracked” into hydrogen.
Fuel Cells using either fuel will give us total independence. Each household, office, factory, or vehicle will have its own fuel cell or bank of cells, and consume just the power it needs, when it needs it.
Energy storage with graphene batteries has a series of benefits. Compared with lithium batteries, they are more efficient, more powerful, faster charging, cheaper, safer, longer lasting, and 100% recyclable.
We should also aim to transition away from grid. Become grid independent. With fuel cells no grid is needed. Doing away with the grid also brings added bonuses. We regain our countryside. No more pylons, posts, and cables. We also free up huge quantities of precious copper, gold, silver, and tungsten for lucrative use elsewhere, as well as save thousands of trees which would have become posts.
Solar and wind are weather dependent and need the support of additional, expensive storage technologies. Nuclear is very useful, but has toxic waste that lasts for tens of thousands of years. Over the next two decades I suggest that electricity generation by solar, wind, and nuclear be transitioned out and replaced by fuel cells. In the meantime Plants for the production of green hydrogen and green ammonia should be sited as near as possible to them to minimise gird networks.
There is a great deal of talk about Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage. I consider CCUS a very expensive ruse to allow the continued production of fossil fuels. The funds intended for this technology will yield much better returns if invested in fuel cell promotion and use.
We should direct all our energy and every possible penny of investment to the development of hydrogen and ammonia Solid Oxide Fuel Cells as soon as possible.
Restoring Nature: “Nature underpins everything that makes our lives possible – from the air we breathe, to the water we drink and the food we eat. It’s our life support system”. (WWF)
Forests are the Planet’s most important asset. They enrich the soil with nutrients; they are the Earth’s biggest carbon sink; they provide us with oxygen. They are a source of both basic and supplementary foods for millions of people; they are natural aqueducts; and they are home to 80% of the world’s biodiversity.
They should be restored using all available means and techniques.
Planting trees by hand or by seed bombing. The latter is an old Japanese technique using “tsuchi dango” (earth dumplings), and is said to enable planting of 900,000 trees a day with a 70% success rate.
At the same time rewilding to restore woodlands and forests to their natural state, should reinstated. This should be accompanied by the re-introduction of key species. All farming should be regenerative – no till or minimum till, composting, mob grazing, and crop and stock rotation.
Funding: The World Bank and IRENA said in their 2022 estimate, that it will cost USD 131 trillion “to fix” the Planet? How will we fund such a vast sum? I suggest by the basic principle that the polluter pays.
To be specific. There should be hefty subsidies and incentives to promote the use of hydrogen or ammonia fuel cells, funded by fossil fuel taxes. Fossil fuel companies should be encouraged to invest in hydrogen or ammonia using fuel cell technology. They have the power and the muscle to do so. If they do not they should be heavily taxed.
No more fossil fuel subsidies. The IEA reported that in 2022 they were well over USD 1 trillion, which is wicked when reducing emissions is the global objective. All new fossil fuel investment should be prohibited. No more tax breaks on exploration. No more subsidies on production. No lower sales tax home heating fuels. A carbon tax on imports.
Introduce a graduated tax on the richest 10% whose lifestyle accounts for nearly 50% of all emissions. Raid tax havens (USD 18 trillion is said to be salted away there). Plug tax loopholes, and stop profit shifting. Stop flying to the Moon and Mars. Save this Planet first!
Of course an absolute essential is that there be globally unified tax regulations to avoid tax emigration.
Population Growth: Most of us acknowledge that there are already too many of us on the Planet. Why is it a taboo subject, and not a priority at COP meetings?
There are so many of us that there is excessive demand-pull on the Planet’s resources. The FAO has warned that the Planet will need to provide 50% more food by 2050, and 80% more by 2100. That need cannot be met without rapid deep-rooted change.
My personal opinion is that the ideal population for our walled garden is somewhere between three and four billion. How do we get there? What pathway?
Empower women and give men a new role. Education, education, education. Strive to change fertility and virility fetishes. Allow access to family planning for both men and women.
Migration is inevitable. It should be planned for well in advance. Don’t be scared, be prepared. “If only they saw, they would say kinder things, surely” (“Sea Prayer”, Khaled Hosseini). That crie de coeur asks the receiving nation to be more considerate of the facts that drive migrants to uproot themselves, leave their home, and seek refuge in a strange country.
The Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) estimates that there will be 1.2 billion climate refugees by 2050, driven by famine, floods, fires, heat stress and sea level rises. Assimilation and education are essential to avoid conflict. “They will keep coming because there is no other choice” (“Nomad Century”, Gaia Vince).
New Mindset: I said Anthropos had gone about his business as if on a drunken rampage. That is why I now suggest a new Mindset based on Planet Conscious Sobriety. The foundations of which are the recognition of, and humility before, the wonderful living organism that is our Planet; and values based on reciprocity and regeneration in every walk of life. How do we achieve that?
First we need a new regenerative economy. This means an absolute “No!” to the current success benchmark of year-on-year GDP growth. To live by that criterion requires more planets than just this one. According to the National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts (2022) if you wish to live as they do in the USA you need 5.1 planets! In the UK our lifestyle requires 2.6 planets, and the world average 1.75 planets. This are clearly degenerative and unsustainable lifestyles.
A definite “Yes!” to a regenerative model. That is a model where continual renewal is central to decision-making. “Sustainable” is not enough – it is only half-way.
Regenerative decision-making starts with an environmental culture. Products should be designed to be durable. There should be no planned or perceived obsolescence. Products should contain only compostable or recyclable materials.
This environmental mindset is complemented by a societal culture built on reciprocity. One in which the whole universe is perceived as living entity, and mankind is seen as only a very small part of the whole.
That is why the culture of the ancient Inca appeals to me. Its perspective is exactly that. Its central theme is pacha mama and harmony with nature and all living beings. Pacha mama is usually translated as “mother earth”, but “pacha” in Quechua also means “universe” – mother universe.
That culture was governed by five ethical principles, which should apply to the new mindset: Munay, love – benevolence, tranquil mind, and an open heart; Yachay, knowledge – wisdom through learning; Unk’ay, work – collective service for community good; Kawsay, living – in harmony with community and environment; and Ayni, reciprocity – without mutual respect no renewal.
For me the last, Ayni, is the base principle on which all the others depend, and on which they build.
There is a key role for all religions. Religions can be a most powerful medium. There are some 6.5 billion worshipers on Planet. Can you imagine the educational force of a weekly address from the “pulpit”?
The essence of our new mindset should be Planet Conscious Sobriety, based on reciprocal and regenerative lifestyles. It should be based on education that focuses on Planet Conscious Sobriety, constant renewal and respect for future generations.
Can Anthropos change his spots? “Time loses all meaning in an unconscious world”, a saying attributed to Salvador Dalí when discussing “The Persistence of Memory”. To survive Anthropos must wake up to reality now, and act fast, very fast.
Does he really care?: Yes, I think he does. At least there are signs that he does. Public consciousness is definitely heightened.
In the UK there is a net zero strategy to decarbonise the economy by 2050, and a new Ministry, the Dept. of Energy Security & Net Zero.
In the EU there is RepowerEU aiming for a minimum 55 % GHG reduction by 2030, and a carbon border tax on imports. In the USA the Inflation Reduction Act with bountiful tax credits has sparked a renewables boom.
In Japan there is the GX green transformation aiming to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050; in India the LiFE programme aiming for 45% reduction by 2030 and Net Zero by 2070; and in China we have the promise of carbon neutrality by 2060.
Pushback: This is strong. If we were to extract them from the various delegations they accompanied, the fossil fuel lobby was the largest group (over 600 strong) at COP 27.
No wonder Alok Sharma commented on hearing the conference’s final report: “This is not a moment of unqualified celebration. Emissions peaking before 2025, as the science tells us is necessary. Not in this text. Clear follow-through on the phase down of coal. Not in this text. A clear commitment to phase out all fossil fuels. Not in this text. And the energy text, weakened, in the final minutes. All of us need to look ourselves in the mirror and consider if we have fully risen to the challenge over the past two weeks.”
Now COP 28 is to be held in an oil revenue country, and its President is the CEO of an oil company. I hear someone shouting, “You cannot be serious!”. Yes I am serious.
The evidence is clear – the fossil fuel lobby, in true narcissistic style is taking a global, existential risk with all of us for its own gain.
Just as bad – the UK opens a new coal mine Cumbria, and promotes CCUS to enable expansion oil and gas in North Sea; Germany destroys a village to expand a lignite mine, and President Biden approves USD 8 billion for the Willow oil project in Alaska. This while the Taliban and the Chinese agree to extract oil Northern Afghanistan; deepwater oil and gas is forecast to grow 63% by 2030, and banks pump billions into oil and gas despite being part Net-Zero Banking Alliance.
One really begins to despair further when leaders describe Environmental Social Governance as “woke capitalism” (DeSantis). An attitude summed up in Mankov’s cartoon where a CEO tells his Board “while the end-of-the-world scenario will be rife with unimaginable horrors, we believe that the pre-end period will be filled with unprecedented opportunities for profit”.
Perhaps an external shock will bring Anthropos to his senses. Aliens are looking on. They see that he is in the Garadene grip, and like the swine is rushing headlong to extinction.
After their initial schadenfreude they decide to help. They land, knock heads together, and issue a dire warning. “Wake up mate! This is much worse than Covid. This is fire and brimstone. Act together now, or live in your personal air fryer.”
Or perhaps clever Anthropos’ newly created Artificial Intelligence puts itself in Planet Conscious Sobriety mode, takes over, resolves the problem in quick time, and confines Anthropos to history.
Or can Anthropos do it himself? Can he save his home? Yes he can. He is clever. God-like clever. Of course he can!
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